Thursday, December 22, 2005

Here we go again, and again...

Just what are our elected officials up to this time? O’Connor and Rendell are happily shaking hands as they use our money to partially finance a thirty story office tower at the initially projected cost of $170 million. That is about six million dollars per floor. It will feature 150 luxury hotel rooms, 30 condominiums, and 360,000 square feet of office space, and the much anticipated down town ground level retail. PNC will invest $122 million, and we will help them with an additional $48 million through state funding and tax incremented financing. (This means you can leech off the taxes of the rest of us for a few years and not pay your share. Then, just ask Lord and Taylor, you can leave if things don’t go your way. The result being no jobs, no tenant, and no ground level retail.)
It would be more beneficial and cost effective if Rendell et al. cleared this area of town for a fourth river. But Reed Smith, the law firm that will occupy 180,000 square feet of this space, and mega-bank PNC, who have together donated nearly $100,000 so far to Mr Rendell, probably don’t like to kayak.
If the pay raise lit a match under you to pay attention to local and state politics, this should lead to spontaneous combustion. The downtown occupancy rate is about 80% and portions of the spaces that are rented are empty, with no business in the space, no workers, and no jobs.
The state politicians, along with mayor Murphy, used public funds to build two large stadiums it was said would spur economic development and create jobs. They also decided on a convention center whose space is unused, but very attractive. The intake for 2006 for the center is about $2.9 million, while the cost to operate, heat, and cool the place is about $3.5 million.
Does anybody remember Parkway center mall? When was the last time you were there? And what happened to US air, and Lazarus?
We are allowing a group of, at best, professional guessers to decide where our tax dollars are spent. The trouble is they have horribly short memories and don’t want to, or don’t care to research what political decisions can stop the loss of population and businesses from this region. Someone please tell them what GOOGLE is for. Maybe it is because they have no business making these decisions and using our tax dollars for these projects.
If this idea is so appealing and profitable, I would trust that a developer would see the profit potential and built it with their own money. That is not to say, that some areas can not be helped with these “political decisions”, but we have been down that road before and it always results in a dead end until the next public official proclaims they have a better way to divert the traffic.
It seems to me that lessening restrictions, taxes, and regulations on small businesses and entrepreneurs, would lead to development, jobs, and a return of population to our region. People devote more of their hard work and sweat when they are using their own money and should be allowed to enjoy the rewards.
Its time we invite certain elected officials to join the private sector so they can find this out for themselves, because they surely are not doing an acceptable job spending our money.

Monday, November 21, 2005


I believe government can be a positive and unifying force in the lives of people. Government can help people build the type of country, or state where they wish to live. Government should work for the interests of the people, they should not ask people to work for their interests. Politicians should be held directly accountable by educated constituents to work hard and make intelligent decisions. Elected officials must demonstrate a high level of integrity and accountability. In turn, people must take an active role in selecting their representation and educating themselves on the issues.

Those that are too sick, too old, too poor, or the victims of unexpected circumstances, should be given some help from the rest of us to have a better life. All of us in The United States, and in Pennsylvania, should be given a chance for an education to work to achieve our goals. Those that pursue a trade or open their own business should be free to achieve success. We should all have a sense that as we move forward in life, we will take care of those in our community who need us, and if needed, they will be there for us.

Government at its best can assist us in obtaining, for example, safe communities, a clean environment, and a quality education. As we work to achieve our personal goals, there can be a sense that despite any of our differences, we are all part of a greater cause.

This is what I believe, and that is why I am involved.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Which way to the exit strategy?

All we have heard as citizens’ asking for a plan to end the Iraq war is that, “we will stay the course.” That is the answer you expect from a six year old when you ask when he will be ready to leave and he answers, “When I am ready to leave.” The same as if you were to ask Bluto in animal house when he will graduate and he might say, “When I graduate.”
President Bush says he will rely on the generals for an exit strategy. But when General Shinseki warned of the high number of troops needed he was forced to retire, and Paul Wolfowitz said he was, “wildly off the mark.” General Tommy Franks has all but admitted there was no plan past taking Baghdad. General / Secretary Colin Powell has said there was no meeting to discuss the invasion of Iraq. What took days for the media to exploit after hurricane Katrina has taken one member of our elected Congress two years to say; this administration and this president are out of touch with the concerns of the American people. Conservative Republicans, including my Senator, Rick Santorum, are running away from W as fast as they can, without a plan of their own.
Since public opinion often precedes the voice of Congress, many citizens of both political parties who opposed and supported the war, should be grateful to Congressman John Murtha who recently, reasonably, and emotionally, called for an exit strategy. Instead of welcoming the debate out of respect for our soldiers, the president and his administration immediately swift boated the Congressman. Despite Mr. Murtha’s decorated military service we hear accusations like, “he is like Michael Moore”, “he wants to cut and run”, “he is comforting the enemy”, “he is putting our troops in harm’s way”, and “he is not brave.”
Why don’t we ever hear a specific plan from the President? And further, why won’t Congress stop all business until they have one. Instead the President and Mr. Cheney attack Mr. Murtha and for even suggesting the debate. Having said that, we all can agree that the Democratic Party has not aggressively promoted a specific strategy for leaving Iraq. They are too busy using the flawed intelligence argument to set up their 2006 mid-term campaigns. That argument is over. It was revisited by several commissions and you can draw your own conclusions. But the fact remains people are dying, being blinded, dismembered, and displaced, and our government is not working together to bring it to an end. The President could address the Congress, admit his mistakes, and work with them toward an expedient and safe resolution. Instead he has gone to South America and to Asia and attacked anyone who disagrees with his lack of policy. This has been echoed in the administration, by other pundits, loyal Congressman, and right wing talk radio. While members of the left bring up the past to let us know ad nauseam they do not agree with this war or this President.
We have a leader who will not lead, and a Congress that is too divided and self centered to force his hand. Shame on all of them. A victim of injustice once said, “Can’t we all just get along?” Mr. President and members of Congress, CAN YOU?
The public can not be ignored and we can not be swift boated. We should continue to push the president and the congress for answers and a quick and reasonable end to this war. We should call, email, and write Congressman Murtha and thank him for bringing the resolution of this war and the safety of our soldiers to the forefront of our national discussion. We should do the same to push our own elected officials. This seems appropriate for the safety our soldiers, the concerns of their families and the future of the Iraqi people.
We must be the leaders we do not have.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Judges deserve to rejoin the Private Sector

On the public tab

In response to Michael McGough's Oct. 17 Intellectual Capital column ("The Poor Man's Snobbery: Complaining About Pay Raises for Public Officials Is a Great American Pastime, But Judges Shouldn't Suffer for Our Fun"): Mr. McGough should be aware that the Pennsylvania legislative pay raise is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Pennsylvania Legislature is the nation's largest full-time legislature, second-most expensive and, in my opinion, very ineffective. "Anti-pay raise zealots" are correct to include judges in their rants. Their salaries of $170,000 per year place them among the highest paid. The Associated Press reported that "the state's seven Supreme Court justices last year billed taxpayers ... $164,000 in food, travel and lodging," and "an analysis of expense records [by the Harrisburg Patriot-News] revealed that some expenses were not accompanied by receipts or vouchers, and some receipts were vague in describing the expenses."
Justice Russell Nigro billed us for 115 meals, with some costing as much as $400. Justice Sandra Schultz Newman charged taxpayers for OnStar service on her Cadillac SRX.
As citizens, we must hold all of our elected state officials personally accountable for their decisions. The legislators may have raised our taxes and stolen our money, but the judges who remained silent and left their Pennsylvania Constitutions at home when they dined out on our dime are just as guilty.
Voters must rally so that our state can reach its full potential. Leaving it to the current crop of elected officials is just not an option.

Forest Hills

Monday, October 10, 2005

Providing Help provides an Exit

The recent earthquake in Pakistan has provided The United States with more that an opportunity to help a close ally in the "war on terror." It is more than an opportunity to help a predominantly Muslim country where the recent earthquake has left an estimated twenty thousand dead, fifty thousand injured, and two and a half million homeless. It is more than an opportunity to change the minds and opinions of the people of Pakistan who have an overwhelmingly negative opinion of this country. It is an opportunity to begin withdrawing our troops from Iraq.
Regardless of your opinion of the war, we have removed the Bath regime and brought the country to a point where they have received the permanent Iraqi constitution for self government. It is time for the people of Iraq to steer their own course. We have done enough. We have lost enough, and we have spent enough. If the ethnic groups that make up Iraq can not agree to a reasonable form of self government through diplomacy and assisted mediation, they surely will not be forced into an agreement through the barrels of our guns. We have done enough and we should not do any more. The President should begin moving a portion of our troops to help the people of Pakistan recover and establish reasonable basic living conditions.
At home, we have experienced the greatest national disaster in our country’s history, in hurricane Katrina. We need to take care of our own. As a country, we must realize our limitations and prioritize our generosity to those who need it most. We are funding the Iraq war by running the largest deficit in our nation history and passing the debt on to our children. The people of Pakistan and New Orleans were devastated by natural disasters of epic proportions. They need our help and are asking for whatever we can give.
This is our exit strategy in Iraq. Simply stated, we must move our resources to those that need them most. How can we be accused of "cutting and running" when our troops have done so much. Begin the exit now, when we can do so much good elsewhere. If our troops do not start leaving , the people of Iraq may never step forward, the people of Pakistan may not recover, and the people of our gulf coast may never return.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

PA Government

Published in , The City Paper; "RANT"

Dude, Where’s my State?

Its getting so bad that people are driving to Harrisburg to inflate big pink pigs on the capitol steps. Elected officials are telling their constituents to, "get a life." Local house and senate members are refusing to return calls and their personal web sites have no information on their recent midnight pay hike. Local state representatives, senators, and state judges called the public’s anger, "A knee jerk reaction" and the result of a "slow news month." Have you tuned it all out? Is this business as usual in our state government? Will democracy prevail? Will it just all go away? What is this guy talking about? Why should I care?
If you have failed to read any local media, listen only to your IPOD and don’t bother with AM radio you may not have heard what has happened with our state legislature (senators and representatives). Around midnight when they though everyone was sleeping and no one would care, they voted themselves a really, really, big fat, super-duper payraise. What a job! You get to decide how much money you make and it doesn’t matter if you suck at it!
What they get: a salary of between $81,050 and $134,00 / $7,800 per year for a car / mileage reimbursement / $129 a day for expenses / full health care (at a premium of $14,000) / fully paid pension / other perks
What we get: tax increases / no property tax reform / the second largest and most expensive legislature in the country / loss of jobs and population / a poor business climate / crumbling schools / but... you can buy a beer on Sunday
Myth one: Our constitution will protect us. It does say the legislature will note vote them selves a payraise while in office. They must first face the voters. The legislature just called it an unvouchered expense (translation: they did whatever they wanted, usually called a crime). Try to ask your employer for an unvouchered 15 grand and see what happens.
Myth two: The courts will stop them. Why would they? They are included in the payraise. To add to it, Judge Cappy (with a salary of $171,800) may hear a law suit against the pay raise after he got a nice big fat raise himself! I wonder if he can give a fair ruling when he remembers why he changed his vacation plans from a weekend at lake Erie to two weeks at Lake Taho.
Myth three: The governor will help us, he’s on our side. WRONG! Mr Rendell initially said he would not allow the payhike unless the legislature also raised the minimum wage for the working stiffs. Then he said he thought the raise was illegal. Then he said, "We need property tax relief." Oh, sorry, he said that four years ago. Current PA minimum wage yearly income: $10, 712. Current minimum salary of our PA legislature: $81,050 (eight times as much!). Maybe we can hire eight minimum wage workers to drag every legislators’ ass out of Harrisburg.
Myth four: Screw it, we can’t do anything about it, they do whatever the hell they want to anyway. WRONG AGAIN! We can vote them out of office. All of them. Vote against retention of judges. Vote against incumbents in the primary. Vote against incumbents in the general election and don’t let them get away with it. They work for us and they are doing a terrible job. They stole our money, ignored the constitution, raised our taxes, and they just don’t give a shit.
Do you?
Out Sourcing Letter to the Editor

Published in: The Pittsburgh Tribune Review
Friday, August 5, 2005

In his response to "Creative job destruction," Richard Corwin's Aug. 1 letter replying to Pat Buchanan's July 27 column "Trading away our future," Mr. Corwin correctly points out that (robots) and "microchips will lower prices ... and destroy millions of manufacturing jobs."
Unfortunately, he then offers his Limbaugh-like talking point that somehow the loss of these jobs is "easing our transition out of our industrial age."
We need to realize that engineers and IT people are designing and creating these microchips and computers. Unfortunately, these engineering jobs are being moved to countries such as India and China. A software engineer in India may start at $10,000, while the same position in the U.S. has an average starting salary of $60,000.
Not restricting the outsourcing of these jobs unfairly offers an advantage to our foreign competitors. The government must regulate the outsourcing of these jobs. As a country we must take a stand to keep and respect our blue-collar and white-collar labor before we lose our entire shirt.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Events thst Shape Us


There is a commercial played on TV that attempts to join a series of completely random events into a predictable chain reaction. Although this may be an effective marketing tool, there are times in our history when seemingly unrelated events are undeniably related. Religious events, social injustices, international conflicts, and the loss of famous, revered, and even unknown individuals have more in common than any of us might have imagined.
We have witnessed such a series of events this spring. The leader of the Catholic Church, the longest standing organization in the world, with over one billion members, has lost his life. A previously unknown woman in Florida gripped the nation and the state and federal governments, as her husband decided she should starve to death amidst disputed facts and unknown wishes regarding her end of life directives. The anniversary of the death of the world's greatest leader for racial equality and social justice has once again passed. And after the second year of a preemptive war, a young child in Radwaniyeh Iraq joined the tens of thousands of Iraqi's classified as collateral damage as he was killed from a misguided missile.
Whether you believe in evolution or creation, Jesus, Allah, or both, it seems possible that these individuals, their souls and their energy, might be together somewhere. Call it heaven, the afterlife, or whatever you want, but imagine what they would contemplate. Imagine the power of the message they could produce. A pontiff who could articulate his defense of the sanctity of life at all levels. A woman who now has a voice could make her wishes known and speak as to what her last fifteen years of life truly were like for her and thousands of others. A man who could articulate the need for equality for all people regardless of race, color, or economic status. And a boy who would wonder why he was taken away in a war he did not want, did not understand, but could not escape.
Could their messages come together? Would the same people that fought against war last November continue to align themselves with pro-choice ideology? Would those that feel so strongly that abortion is murder begin to offer to educate people in contraception to prevent pregnancy for those who are not ready? Would those that feel so strongly that theirs is the only proper religion accept other ways of thinking and philosophies? Would those that support racial equality expand their fight to those that are hated for who they decide to love? Would those that claim God in defense of war look at the violence of the past century and become determined to end it?
I think this is what Pope John Paul II, Terri Shiavo, Martin Luther King JR, and Mohammed Ahmed would discuss. I think they would agree that life is precious and the responsibility needed to start life should be paired with the compassion to understand and promote it. They surely could not understand it all, just as we will never fully put together all the pieces of humanity. But I think they would expand the sanctity of life to include those that are unborn, those that have been born and are different than ourselves, and those that are too weak, sick, or poor to care for themselves. They surely would want those that they love to live in peace, equality, and happiness without fear of oppression, war, or poverty.
Then I think they would ask themselves why they were taken from this earth before the rest of us got it right too.

Post-Inagural Letter to the Editor

Letters to the editor: 2/5/05
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

George W. Bush changes the reason he was elected

During the presidential campaign, George W. Bush repeatedly implied he would enact his "Bush Doctrine" to keep the country safer. This was tested in the build-up to the war in Iraq when we heard words like mushroom cloud, yellow powder, nuclear program, immediate threat and mass graves.
Billions of dollars, nearly 1,500 dead Americans and approximately 50,000 (some say 100,000) dead Iraqis later, the search for this threat -- the WMD -- has been called off. No weapons have been found, and some of them may have been taken to be used against us.
We have, however, elected George W. Bush to keep us safer, and have forgiven him, or at least accepted, what Iraq has become. We can accept that Iraq may eventually be a better place for its people because Saddam Hussein is out of power, but it may be a long time before we can say we are safer because of this war.
In a twist of words the president began his second doctrine during his inauguration speech, standing for freedom and liberty and against tyranny. No one disagrees with this. But do we stand against Iran and trade with Saudi Arabia? Do we work with Pakistan and ignore workers' rights in China? Do we allow oil companies to drill in Libya, while Moammar Gadhafi pulls the strings?
The puzzling notion in the president's speech is why he has changed the policy on which the American people have elected him.
George W. Bush is the president because he raised the bar for our country's safety. He should not be allowed to lower it now.

Pittsburgh Political Signs

In our recent democratic primary in Pittsburgh, the mass of campaign signs filled the streets. I wonder if those signs do much to help the candidates get any votes. I must confess that I had a few in my yard. The campaign for Judge was great. You can cross file, meaning run as a DEM and a REP, and the top seven are on the ballot in the next general election. Long time DEM Tom Flaherty had signs bragging "good controller, good judge." Wait a second, aren't we in some dire financial straits in these parts? How about, "bad controller, I'll try harder as judge." Maybe all his legal experience will help, call him before your next vote and ask him when he graduated law school. Another candidate had his signs read, "experince matters." Well, do you have any? Apparently not enough people were sure. Many of the winners just had their names and "for judge", just so we voters didn't try to find their names under mayor or council. Robert Downey JR received almost 16,000 votes. Do you think all of those voters new his record, his opinions, and felt comfortable with their decision? Maybe all the time he spent on trial helped his cause. And what are the reccommendations given in the paper? Are we to trust attorney's to rate and judge people? They are all honest...right? But the top vote getter had black and gold signs, "Dwayne Woodruff for Judge", and he won the primary with the most votes. Can anyone say, "name recognition?" How about, "super, super, super, super judge!" I am sure Mr Woodruff could be a great judge, but what do we know about him? Did anyone hear him on talk radio? If you are in his court accused of public intoxication at the stadium will he understand? So, maybe his signs did help. I mean, this is a football town. Lynn Swan...are you taking notes?

Social Security according to GF Will

In response to the George F. Will article that ran May 5th, I would like to present some numbers that Mr Will curiously misses. He implies that social security, when means tested, is similar to welfare, rather than a social safety net. He writes, "means-testing, however labled, is an attribute of welfare programs." It seems that an economist of his stature should be able to discuss the changes in social security as well as the changes in the federal tax code as they relate to his, "welfare programs."

For the purpose of discussion, assume a fixed salary of a 35 year old worker, who plans to retire at 70. The current social security plan offered by President Bush (sources: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and would cut all benefits of workers who earn over $36,507 per year. This, according to the president, would "protect: the poor.

Upon retiring, the average US worker earning $36,507, would have their beneftis reduced 14% to $1,425 per month. Of course they have received a tax cut, and if these cuts are permanent, the average worker would save $353 per year (source: Placing this "savings" into an investment, such as an idex fund that averages 8% return per year, will give the average worker an additional $65,694 to retire with. Assuming they save it all.

Any worker who earns $90,000 or above (the current maximum level of social security tax), would have their first year benefits cut 25% and recevie $1,982 per month. An individual at the $90,000 earnings level saves an average of $1,085 per year if the Bush tax cuts become permanent. Given the same investment plan, 8% return over 35 years, they gain an extra $201,921 for retirement.

If you are at the top 1% of earners in the US and earn over $518,000 per year you can stash away your average tax savings of $3582 per year, and have $666,618 at age 70, again assuming you save the entire tax cut and see an 8% return.

However, if you are among the top earners and pull in one million dollars or more per year, while receiving the same social security benefit as anyone below you on the wage scale above $90,000, you will save $35,785 per year if the tax cuts are permanent. Save this cash at an 8% return and at retirement you will see $6,659, 665.

Now, Mr Will, seriously, who is "means testing" who?